Barry McBride: Jay Cutler's reputation around the league took a tumble in the eyes of many as he made his way out of Denver. While undeniably talented, Cutler looks, at least to us out-of-towners, like he might have some maturity issues that could make him a questionable team leader. Have you seen evidence that this reputation is undeserved, or that Cutler has learned from his experiences in the last year?
John Crist: There's no question that Cutler is a president-of-his-own-fan-club kind of guy, which won't endear him to fans or media any time soon, but he seems to have the respect of the players in the locker room – and they're the ones that truly matter. While Kyle Orton gave everything he had on the field of battle and was universally respected by his peers, although some of them were sad to see him go, the Bears were ecstatic when Cutler was brought to town. I've heard rumors about him refusing to so much as make eye contact with staffers when he passes them in the hallway, but the Windy City won't care if he wins ballgames.
There's nothing wrong with brash confidence when you're lining up at the quarterback position, and even though Cutler takes that attribute to the extreme, being nice guys didn't do much for the Jonathan Quinns and Craig Krenzels of the world.
BM: For years, Browns fans pined over LT Orlando Pace, who they watched play football for Ohio State, and whom they dreamed might come home to play offensive tackle in Cleveland. While that never happened, Pace did finally leave St. Louis for Chicago during the offseason. What's your read on what Pace has left? Can he still excel at the NFL level?
JC: Pace ultimately came to Chicago because he liked Lovie Smith and the Bears said he could continue to play left tackle, which was interesting since they selected their left tackle of the future, Chris Williams, in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft. A mountain of a man up close, Pace performed rather admirably throughout training camp and claims to be healthier than he's been in years – he also believes the injuries he suffered in recent seasons have been flukish. Elvis Dumervil, Denver's shorter-and-quicker pass rusher, got the best of him on a few occasions last Sunday, but Pace knows what he's doing and plans to flip the switch once the results start to matter.
Fortunately for the Bears, they only need Pace to be better than last year's starter, current Brown John St. Clair, in order to protect Cutler's blind side better than Orton's was a year ago.
BM: While Cutler sliced and diced the Browns last year to great effect, he had a number of impressive targets to work with in Mike Shanahan's offense. The Bears don't seem to have the same type of receivers that complemented Cutler in Denver. Who is likely to be Cutler's favorite targets?
JC: As was the case a year ago, despite the fact that Cutler is now under center instead of Orton, look for tight end Greg Olsen and running back Matt Forte to be the top two pass catchers on the stat sheet. Both are young, talented and possibly on the way to their first Pro Bowl, although that also goes to show how weak this team is at wide receiver right now. Devin Hester is never going to be a No. 1 in this league no matter what the organization says, and I'm yet to be convinced that Earl Bennett's one-year relationship with Cutler at Vanderbilt is going to mean automatic success in the NFL.
Look for a lot of two-tight end sets with Olsen and Desmond Clark, plus Forte does a lot more than catch the occasional screen pass or dump-off throw – he can split out wide and run routes quite well.
BM: Coach Lovie Smith is somewhat of a cipher to fans outside of Chicago. He might be the least-recognized coach to take his team to a Super Bowl in quite a while. As a DC--turned-head coach, he doesn't seem to leap onto our television screens often, like Rex Ryan or some of the coaches off the Bill Belichick/Bill Parcells tree. How would you describe Smith as a coach? As a player-friendly coach? A great Xs-and-Os guy? A "manager of coaches"? Help fill in the blanks for fans who don't know much about Lovie.
JC: As I once heard one of my radio buddies in Chicago describe Smith, and I whole-heartedly agree, he's one of the best Monday-to-Saturday coaches in the league. Not only do his players like him and talk glowingly about him, especially free-agent additions such as linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, but they give maximum effort each and every Sunday. Where I have a small problem with Smith is his game-day tactics, as he has a history of time-management mistakes and always errs on the conservative side.
If you want evidence of that, just look at former Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould, who can count the number of 50-yard field goal attempts he has had in his four-year career on one hand.
BM: The Bears have had some great linebackers in recent memory in Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, and now they've added Pisa Tinoisamoa, who you seem to be high on. What does he add to the Bears defense, and how would you attack that defense as an opponent?
JC: We all know that Urlacher and Briggs have been one of the more prolific one-two linebacker punches in football for quite some time, but they've been forced to line up with an inferior athlete at the strong-side position. No offense to Hunter Hillenmeyer, who is technique-sound, assignment-perfect and a team-first guy – not to mention the fact that his father Henry is a Bear Report subscriber – but he's never been much of a playmaker. Tinoisamoa, on the other hand, is another sideline-to-sideline tackler and has been terrific during the exhibition slate.
How you want to attack this defense is with a straight-ahead running game that eliminates the linbackers' speed, mixed with a short- and intermediate-range passing game that exploits the middle of the field – the Cover 2 is vulnerable there.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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